Around 30 Conservative MPs are ready to vote to give three million EU nationals the right to stay in Britain after Brexit, it was claimed today – enough to defeat Theresa May.
A peer who helped inflict a humiliating defeat on the Prime Minister in the House of Lords last night predicted a huge revolt when the controversy returns to the Commons.
Baroness Molly Meacher, an independent crossbencher, said: “We understand there are 30 Tories who are saying they will vote to support this amendment.
“Obviously the Tory whips in the Commons are going to work extremely hard with all sorts of bribes to get these people to vote with the Government.
“I believe it can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principle – and Tories are principled people in general.”
Just three Tory MPs broke ranks when, last month, the Government blocked a bid to unilaterally protect EU nationals’ rights with a comfortable majority of 42
That suggests around 25 rebels will be needed when the Commons votes again, probably the week after next – and some Remain-supporting Conservatives have already said they will not step out of line.
Many trust the Prime Minister after she vowed to ensure the issue is top of her wish-list when the two-year Brexit negotiations get underway, after Article 50 is triggered.
Ms May will not act until she receives “the same reassurance for UK citizens living in the EU” – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed for refusing to start early talks.
But Baroness Meacher warned EU citizens – and British ex-pats – could be “left in a state of limbo at the end of the two-year period”, adding: “We know it is perfectly possible there will be no deal.”
Although the Prime Minister wants to reach a deal straightaway, the EU Commission’s negotiators have insisted the UK’s hefty “divorce bill” must be settled first.
Furthermore, with French and German election within the next six months, it is possible that the fate of EU citizens will not be discussed until after then.
The Polish Social and Cultural Association has described the Prime Minister’s stance as “immoral”, warning nationals were too scared to report hate crimes because of confusion about whether they would be able to remain.
And peers warned of the “devastating consequences” facing public services and the economy without EU workers – as well as the fear many feel about their future.
But the pressure on Tory backbenchers not to rebel was underlined by fierce criticism of the Lords vote by leading Leave-backer Iain Duncan Smith.
“It is a bit of posturing by some people in the Lords who are beating their chests and puffing out their own sense of self-importance,” the former cabinet minister said.
“My answer to that is ‘jolly good, nice to hear from you, but it has no bearing on Theresa May's Article 50 negotiations’.”
The amendment passed by the Lords, with a thumping majority of 102, requires ministers to act to guarantee EU citizens’ rights within three months of triggering Article 50 – which is likely to mean by June.
The scale of the defeat makes it more likely that Ms May will be defeated again next week, when peers will demand a decisive “meaningful vote” on her final Brexit deal.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies